I’m writing this from the lovely Air New Zealand lounge before my V Australia flight to LAX. Heading back home after what was a very nice trip to New Zealand and Australia. I’m working on a full trip report, which will be coming out in parts as I am able to complete it.
I had several flights on the various Virgin Australia brands on this trip, and some were perfectly fine, but the last few have left quite a sour taste in my mouth, and wanted to share this.
The problems started when flying from Christchurch to Melbourne on what was supposed to be a Pacific Blue flight I had several calls a few days prior notated as urgent from the airline about a change. I called back and was told the only change was a departure time 15 minutes earlier. After asking the agent to confirm this was the only change for both my wife and my separate records, he casually mentioned that the flight appeared to be operated by Air New Zealand, despite being labeled as DJ 61. Odd.
I arrived at CHC airport approximately 130 minutes before departure for checkin (much earlier than I normally do, BTW). There was a special checkin area for our flight. Air New Zealand agent couldn’t check us in right away, so told us to wait. This was the first time I heard the phrase “Won’t be a moment”, apparently an Aussie/Kiwi thing. In reality it was nearly 2 hours before bags were tagged and we had boarding passes.
Apparently, there was an issue with the Virgin systems that was refusing checkin for various passengers. The agent confirmed my Australian visa was fine, we had seats, but the NZ agent couldn’t get their system to allow check in. This happened to several other people, and required multiple calls to the Virgin operation center, which was apparently very understaffed at the early morning hour Australia time. It took nearly 2 full hours for them to sort this out. I was a bit uncomfortable since various agents were walking back and forth with our passports, and our bags were stacked behind a counter the whole time. I was told “It won’t be a moment” and “almost done” so many times, which were far from correct. I was upset to be standing at the checkin counter this whole time rather than relaxing (and exploring the NZ lounge). Somehow they solved this issue, then were hurrying us and others with the same problem to security to get the plane out on time.
This issue was due to a Virgin matter, although Air New Zealand was the face of it for the customers. I don’t hold them at fault in this case, since they had no flexibility in their system. Having Air NZ operate a plane with their aircraft and their staff was a new thing, at least for the agents at CHC. It still is not clear to my why this change was made.
In the process of this long wait, I finally confirmed we were actually flying on Air New Zealand metal, as I suspected. In a way, I was happy about this, as for me to spend 2 weeks in New Zealand and not to fly on their flag carrier would be a shame, so in that way it worked out for the best. That said, for many domestic and trans-Tasman flights, there is no premium seating. Despite having a Premium Economy seat booked, my wife and I were booked into seats 3D and 3F. Sounds good right? It would have been fine if not for a nice gentleman seated in seat 3E. As much as I dislike middle seats in economy, I took his seat so I could sit next to my wife. The NZ A320 we were on was quite comfortable, with decent seat pitch, and an excellent AVOD system. In flight, all passengers served a light breakfast, which is better than what is offered to economy passengers on Virgin. I will have much more info on flight details in the trip report.
Upon landing in Melbourne, There were several other inbound international flights, so there was more than a 60 minute wait for customs. Frustrating in that Virgin Australia normally provides an Express pass to premium economy and business class customers for customs and immigration, but that wasn’t offered, so there was more waiting. In all, it was a frustrating day of travel.
The following day, we flew from Melbourne to Sydney on Virgin Australia (formerly Virgin Blue) to connect to V Australia onward to LAX. A few days prior, I received an email that noted that Virgin would be in the process of upgrading their systems, so there would be extra staff to help. Annoying, but not too bad, at least based on their description. Here is part of that message:
Travelling from Australia
Once you’ve completed your domestic flight, please collect your checked baggage (as it will not be through-checked to your final destination) and proceed to the international terminal. When you arrive at the international terminal, please proceed to the V Australia check-in counter where you will be checked-in for your V Australia flight.
Transfer between terminals: Sydney Domestic – V Australia ground staff will be in the arrivals hall to direct and assist you to the transfer bus.
Upon check in at MEL, the agents didn’t seem to have a clue about how things would proceed in SYD. Annoying but based on the email shown above and the letter the agent provided, there shouldn’t be any trouble. Once we landed in Sydney, there was no ground staff to direct us where to go, and we were not provided directions to transfer to the international terminal. We actually had to collect our baggage (as expected), then go to the domestic departure area to get tickets for the transfer shuttle to the international terminal. Agents were apologetic, but clearly there were major communication issues, and there were no agents on hand to help as promised. Since we were not checked in for the V Australia flight, we had to wait until 3 hours before departure when the ticket counters in the international terminal opened to recheck our bags and get boarding passes for onward flights.
In all, it was a frustrating couple of flights. It wouldn’t take much to make this right, and based on the information I received before travel, it seems Virgin had plans to work things out, but the execution was terrible. In my experience, the agents are friendly, but have very little information, and no ability to work outside their normal routine. In all it was quite a mess that left a rather poor taste in my mouth with regard to Virgin Australia. As I have said (and will discuss more in the report), their in flight product is nice, but they have some serious work to do to make their overall product world-class.
Note: My apologies for the initial draft that was posted, I have since updated this post.